Mission Report

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Vid
Title: Mission Report
Creator: Lim
Date: August 25, 2006
Format: digital vid
Length: 1:49 minuates
Music: original song written and performed by lim
Genre:
Fandom: SGA
Footage: Stargate Atlantis, The Blue Planet
URL: download
formerly available on imeem

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Mission Report is an SGA fanvid made by Lim, who also composed and performed the vid's music.

The Vid

This vid was made for the sga_flashfic "Mission Report" challenge, which it responds to by having Teyla Emmagan present a mission report in the collaborative, oral form of a song sung in the round. The vid also communicates a theme of communities under threat by predators by integrating external footage of schools of fish and circling sharks with the SGA footage. One could read this as a parable of the Pegasus peoples as threatened by the Wraith (i.e. schools of fish = Pegasus communities and sharks = the Wraith, who want to eat them), or, more subversively, that the sharks in some ways represent the SGA expedition itself. This interpretation is enabled by the lyrics to the song, which Lim composed, performed, sang, and recorded in Garage Band.

The Song

The song to Mission Report carries a lot of meaning. As noted above, it is musically written as overlapping parts, sung in the round, which makes it a very different kind of "mission report": collaboratively sung songs or poems would be a way of remembering things in an oral culture. The song is also critical of the SGC's militaristic and macho attitudes. Despite the visual imagery of fish and sharks, which evoke the Wraith, the song's lyrics [1] seem to be talking more about the flaws of the Atlantis expedition.

For instance, the lyrics, "Ragged and thin they took us in/And washed our bodies from their water skins/We took their comfort and gave them toys/We kissed their girls/And beat their boys," suggests that Teyla is not exactly approving of the way that the SGC conduct their away missions; the natives' kindness is repaid with 'toys', and neither men nor women seem to be respected. Similarly, the chorus,"Oh, ho, how can we go?/How can we travel with our cloak of woe?/How can we meddle in these hungry lives?/Bellies so full and our clear blue skies" as well as the later line, "guilt is the indulgence of the favoured son," seem to be critical of Atlantis's privilege and power over the native peoples they're trying to defend from the Wraith.

By the end of the song, where Teyla/Lim sings, "We spread our hands and our smiles wide" over footage of a grinning shark, it's pretty obvious that Teyla fears the Atlantis team themselves are predators, too.

Reactions and Reviews

This vid was created in response to a challenge in the Stargate: Atlantis (SGA) fandom to create a mission report documenting one of the team’s intergalactic adventures. Given the show’s identification with a military point of view, most respondents created prose narratives addressed to a commanding officer. In contrast, Lim’s multimedia "Mission Report" imagines a typical Stargate adventure as told by one of the show’s "native" (i.e. alien) characters. The vid not only imagines the way an oral culture might tell history, it also contradicts the show’s heroic narratives and tells a story of exploitation and entitlement. "Mission Report" articulates the point of view of Teyla, the Stargate team’s only woman as well as a "native" of the galaxy the team is exploring. While the show typically marginalizes her position (its point of view is firmly aligned with the Earth explorers) Lim literally gives Teyla voice by composing and singing an original song from her perspective. The song is sung in the round, demonstrating a way of remembering that is collaborative and communitarian, the very opposite of an individually-authored military document. Beyond the musical form, the lyrics reframe the show’s heroic narratives of exploration as colonization: "Ragged and thin they took us in/And washed our bodies from their water skins/We took their comfort and gave them toys/We kissed their girls/And beat their boys." The repaying of kindness with trinkets, as well as the sexual exploitation of native women, are, of course, classic colonialist tropes. While it is unusual for a vidder to compose her own music, Lim’s song also serves the traditional function of vid music: to provide a lens for interpreting imagery. Lim intercuts footage from SGA with the Blue Planet—in particular, we see schools of fish menaced by the occasional grinning shark. Since the explorers’ main adversaries are a species of predatory alien vampires called the Wraith, it’s easy enough to read the sharks as Wraith preying on communities of humans. But as with all vids, the song is the key to unpacking the visuals, and so a second reading emerges: that the show’s protagonists—the colonizers from another galaxy; our intended identification points—are the true predators, and their cult of white western individualism makes their toothy, movie-star smiles terrifying. [2]
I found the vidder’s use of her own song a very intriguing one. Was that part of the challenge brief, or did Lim decide autonomously? If the latter, her choice raises all sort of juicy questions about the narrative uses of self-produced songs and its parallels with filking, self-produced fan songs about their favourite media sources, historically sung at fan gathering and circulated much as broadsheet ballads were—but now of course available as mp3 online. Are vids and filking converging? If so, how and why? A second point: this vid made me think of the Due South vid Icebound Stream by Sisabet, which uses nature documentaries footage as a metaphor for the main characters’ relationship —do you think there’s an element of hommage or quotation at work? And I may be wrong, but I believe Lim and Sisabet collaborated on other vids, so this may be yet another example of collaborative, hive mind fan production. [3]
Sisabet has collaborated with Luminosity, not Lim, though yeah, in both cases the use of parts of the natural world as metaphor is fascinating. [4]
I hadn’t realized this before, but as you’re laying out the various ways the show aligns good=western=military (albeit maverick :)=male=colonial that Lim’s vid inverts and complicates, it’s interesting how nature’s understood here. I mean, yes, we have a traditional feminized, closer to nature colonial subject trope, but I think the body/mind dichotomy goes even further, doesn’t it? From the ascension machine to the way bodies constantly betray and nature’s threatening and scary, SGA is like a long commercial for experiencing our environment wrapped in plastic (or in humongous orange jump suits :). Maybe having the wrapped prepackaged sandwiches and water plastic bottles is less stupidity on the side of the production and more part of the ideological underpinning of the colonial project of taming nature and the (natural) natives… [5]
This is certainly one of those pieces that raises the question: “is it a vid?” Not that this question is always a fruitful one, but in the context of this theme week it might be interesting to consider what “vid” might contract to exclude as well as expand to include. In this case, the relationship seems mostly contextual, in that lim is a self-identified vidder who has made other (somewhat) more traditional vids and who created this within LJ fandom. Among its many aesthetic divergences, I’d like to remark on its emphatic non-narrativity, which seems to be another aspect of its critique of colonial teleologies. In refusing the sort of linear, objective account that “mission report” implies in favor of an impressionistic, almost unintelligible poetry of natural images, this critique operates on the level of media form as well. [6]
I was still thinking about the song, and I was intrigued by the way its volume was rather low. Is this some sort of technical issue, or was there some sort of deliberate choice to indicate the prevalence of the image over the word in the alien culture, in line with the main thrust of the vid? In other words, the lyrics are some sort of background commentary on the main narrative (neatly paralleling the way fan fiction foregrounds its own retelling over the source text—what I called ‘palimpsest’ elsewhere). [7]
Thanks for the links to the lyrics! Perhaps because I’m listening on a tinny laptop, the words faded into the background for me when I first watched; I experienced the vocals as another instrument more than a narrative themselves. Even so, the story as you descemerged with remarkable clarity, largely because the story of the fish and the shark is so familiar and so clearly mapped onto the characters. [8]
… the volume of the song is indeed low. I agree with Tisha, this is significant b/c it complements the main idea that traditional verbal/textual narrative in Teyla’s culture is pushed aside. [9]

References

  1. ^ Lyrics, Mission Report; WebCite
  2. ^ comment by Francesca Coppa at In Media Res: "Mission Report": The Medium Is The Message; WebCite(November 2009)
  3. ^ comment by Mafalda Stasi at In Media Res: "Mission Report": The Medium Is The Message; WebCite(November 2009)
  4. ^ comment by Francesca Coppa at In Media Res: "Mission Report": The Medium Is The Message; WebCite(November 2009)
  5. ^ comment by Kristina Busse at In Media Res: "Mission Report": The Medium Is The Message; WebCite(November 2009)
  6. ^ comment by Julie Levin Russo at In Media Res: "Mission Report": The Medium Is The Message; WebCite(November 2009)
  7. ^ comment by Mafalda Stasi at In Media Res: "Mission Report": The Medium Is The Message; WebCite(November 2009)
  8. ^ comment by Tisha Turk at In Media Res: "Mission Report": The Medium Is The Message; WebCite(November 2009)
  9. ^ comment by Mafalda Stasi at In Media Res: "Mission Report": The Medium Is The Message; WebCite(November 2009)